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Ex-governor Mbadinuju’s burial: Anambra shows leadership — By Don Adinuba


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In his famous study of leadership, Jim Collins, regarded as one of the most engaging leadership scholars across the globe, states in his book entitled Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, that there are otherwise excellent leaders who have the weakness of not wanting their successors to do very well. They relish being described as indispensable, even after they have left office. You can never hear them say anything positive about their predecessors or successors. But the best and most effective leaders, according to Collins, are those who acknowledge the contributions of others and are professionally competent as well as humble. “I am a giant because I am standing on the shoulders of other persons”, Nelson Mandela, a global hero, used to declare, as documented by his biographer, Martin Meredith, the resourceful historian, and journalist.

The Anambra State government and people demonstrated what Collins calls Level Five leadership, the highest level of leadership, during the funeral of former Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju from November 22 to 24, 2023. Mbadinuju led Anambra State into the Fourth Republic, and he was in office from 1999 to 2003. All his successors and even deputy governors as well as other key public officers participated in his funeral rites in both Awka, the state capital, and in Uli, his hometown, alongside large numbers of the ordinary folk. Their involvement was not perfunctory, that is, what they had to do by virtue of the office they have held; it rather sprang from the depths of their hearts. Each person who had the opportunity to speak publicly took time to mention Mbadinuju’s personal virtues and important achievements and received at different points lasting applauses. Governor Chukwuma Charles Soludo, who planned and delivered the ceremonies, was in his element. Even the speech he made without a written paper was magisterial, laced with facts, figures, and dates; it was impactful because of its penetrating logic and impressive delivery.

Mbadinuju’s achievements which speakers reeled out include the restoration of peace between Aguleri and Umueri communities after several years of a savage war aimed at the obliteration of each other, the recovery of Anambra State from the jaws and claws of the most unconscionable armed robbers who were even forcing fathers to rape their daughters, the remodelling and rebuilding of Government House which both ex-Vice President Alex Ekwueme and former Biafran leader Chukwuemeka Ojukwu commissioned, the establishment of housing estates in Awka, the setting up of Orient Petroleum Company which eventually gave rise to Anambra’s emergence as an oil-producing state, and the building of basic infrastructure in different places, the deliberate use of indigenous contractors as a strategic initiative to empower them, enhance their management skills and transfer technology to the country, etc.

The cessation of the Aguleri-Umueri fratricide was as dramatic as it was waged. In defiance of serious warnings by the army, the police, and state security leadership not to go near these communities fighting each other to a finish with military paraphernalia, Mbadinuju, a fervent Pentecostal Christian, insisted that he would visit the fighters in their forests and preach to them the gospel of peace, love, unity, and fraternal solidarity. The fighters were amazed to see him in their midst and he preached with dramatic force, like a possessed person. The perennial war ceased automatically with that very visit. This story may sound apocryphal or sexed up, but the event did happen exactly like this. Ask any person from these communities or neighbouring ones or the security agencies.

The end of the insecurity siege throughout the state was no less dramatic. The security challenge was such that women were every night sleeping in churches in large numbers for fear of being robbed and raped maniacally. There were several accounts of luxury bus passengers killed in dozens almost every night by armed robbers searching for raw cash; in those days most traders rarely used the banking system, and the banks were not technology-driven. The Mbadinuju administration resorted to the unorthodox Bakassi style to grapple with the grave challenge. It was primitive, no doubt, but effective. Anambra leapt from being the most insecure state in the federation to the safest.

Speakers at the funeral services found it necessary to specify Mbadinuju’s achievements and provide the context because it was fashionable to claim that he did absolutely nothing for years. As proof, they always pointed to the strike for four months by the organised labour, including teachers which led to the closure of state-owned schools. Some politicians campaigning for public office claimed that the strike lasted a whole year, costing the state an entire academic session. The politicians were less than fair to history. Still, in a state where education is loved, many are enthusiastic to believe any hyperbolic or garnished accounts of the period schools were shut down as their own way of getting at those at the helm of affairs when the sad event occurred. In other words, Anambra pupils did not lose any academic session. In fact, it was during the academic year purportedly lost completely to strikes that Dennis Memorial Grammar School, a publicly owned high school in Onitsha, posted an excellent result in the terminal secondary school certificate examination conducted by the West African Examinations Council. Its principal, Mr Okpala from Aguata Local Government Area, was consequently promoted to permanent secretary.

Still, Mbadinuju, lawyer, journalist, and former associate professor with a Cornell Ph.D. in political science, was a victim of poor judgment. He grabbed national headlines when on coming to office he launched a no-holds campaign against the self-styled godfathers of Anambra politics who were nothing less than economic leeches, only to discover that they were in cahoots with the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency. The governor was prevailed upon to seek accommodation with them “in the overriding interest of peace, stability, unity, and progress of our state”. Mbadinuju went rather far. The godfathers seized the state’s finances through the irrevocable standing payment orders (ISPOs), a legal and financial instrument authorising payments to them through the state’s share of the monthly allocations from the federation account regardless of the level or quality of the job done as per their contracts with the state government. His calculation was to come after the godfathers in his second term. The godfathers, however, ensured that he was the only Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governor denied a second-term ticket. Meanwhile, there was no money left to pay workers in his last year.

Mbadinuju reminds us of the observation that how a politician leaves public office is far more important than how he entered. A leader is comparable to an excellent actor who seizes the audience’s imagination for hours but falters on their way out of the stage. Everyone, led by the media, will be discussing the fall, and not the hours of hypnotising performance. Many have forgotten that Mbadinuju was probably Nigeria’s most popular governor in his first 18 months, but not Governor Soludo who is obviously not given to mob hysteria. Having his or her own mind is a critical leadership requirement, according to Collins, the eminent leadership researcher, who argues that every Level Five leader must have “professional will”, that is, must be fiercely independent-minded even when he demonstrates uncanny humility.

If Ali Mazrui, the most published African scholar who was Albert Schweitzer Professor of Politics at the State University of New York and White Professor at Large Emeritus and Senior Scholar at Cornell University in New York, were still alive and watched ex Governors Chris Ngige, Peter Obi and Willie Obiano who was represented because he was in the far-away United States, join Soludo to pay their last respects to their predecessor regardless of their different political parties and political differences, he would have proclaimed that Anambra people indeed have a short memory of hate. It is noteworthy that a few days after Mbadinuju died, Emeka Offor, the entrepreneur and one of his most prominent political foes, sponsored a documentary on the erstwhile governor and aired it on national television stations. Offor had visited Mbadinuju when he lost his mother over 10 years ago and when the businessman’s father died about seven years ago, Mbadinuu reciprocated the visit.

Soludo has been making the profound point that Anambra politicians may jaw-jaw, as Winston Churchill would say, but they end within a few days demonstrating profound fraternal solidarity. They meet frequently at weddings and other social gatherings and behave in a way that dazes onlookers from other states. It was common to see Ngige and Victor Umeh when they were contesting fiercely for the Anambra Central senatorial zone crack jokes against each other while eating and drinking from the same table at a wedding or funeral. This is the Anambra spirit. It’s the spirit that moved then-Governor Obiano, after seeing the unenviable condition of former state governors Chukwuemeka Ezeife and Mbadinuju, to provide them with vehicles and place them on pensions.

The Anambra leaders and people have, with Mbadinuju’s official burial, demonstrated once again that their state is truly the Light of the Nation. We have a superabundance of humanism. Other states have something important to learn from us.

Adinuba was the Commissioner for Information & Public Enlightenment, Anambra State (2018-22).

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